Increased Intracranial Pressure

By Freedman, Meg

What is increased intracranial pressure?

Increased intracranial pressure refers to a serious condition in which there is an increase in fluid pressure inside the skull, whether blood or cerebrospinal fluid. Cerebrospinal fluid is produced in cavities located deep within the brain known as ventricles. This fluid fills the ventricles and flows into the spinal cord and out into the subarachnoid space where it absorbed. The subarachnoid space is a space between the layers of the membrane that cover the brain and spinal cord.


Normally, cerebrospinal fluid is absorbed as quickly as it is made, so that the amount stays relatively constant. Increased intracranial pressure occurs when something blocks the flow or absorption of the fluid, or if an excess amount of fluid is produced. As the pressure of the fluid increases, the ventricles enlarge and the brain is pressed against the skull, damaging the brain tissue.


Increased intracranial pressure usually generates severe headache, but feeling like you have head pressure or a headache does not necessarily mean that you have increased intracranial pressure. Most headaches are not caused by increased intracranial pressure, although a severe headache is one of the symptoms of the condition.


Causes of increased intracranial pressure include serious diseases and conditions, such as hydrocephalus, which is an increase in the volume of cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Increased intracranial pressure can also be due to diseases or conditions that create abnormally high pressure within the skill, such as a brain tumor or swelling of brain tissue due to encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain often caused by a viral infection. Increased intracranial pressure can also be caused by bleeding into or on the brain due to such conditions as a serious head injury or hemorrhagic stroke.

Symptoms of increased intracranial pressure may include lethargy, vomiting, seizures, vision changes, and behavior changes. The headache that may occur with increased intracranial pressure is often described as the “worst headache of my life.” Increased intracranial pressure and its underlying cause are diagnosed by performing a complete neurological assessment and certain testing procedures, such as a spinal tap, CAT scan (also known as a CT scan or CT), or MRI.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, experience a head injury or have an unexplained or sudden severe headache, paralysis, difficulty speaking, difficulty moving any part of the body, seizure, change in vision, or change in level of alertness, such as passing out.

In addition, seek immediate medical care (call 911) for a head injury in an infant or toddler or for such symptoms as vomiting coupled with drowsiness or lethargy, or bulging of the soft spot on top of the head (fontanel).


SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with increased intracranial pressure?

Feeling like you have head pressure or having a headache does not necessarily mean that you have increased intracranial pressure, which is caused by a serious condition, such as a hemorrhagic stroke or brain tumor. Although headache is one possible symptom of increased intracranial pressure, the majority of headaches are not caused by increased intracranial pressure.

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CAUSES

What causes increased intracranial pressure?

Increased intracranial pressure is a serious condition in which there is higher than normal pressure inside the skull. Causes include:

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves